William Holmes Autobiography

24th May 1960

For many years my wife and children have been asking me to write my memoirs and so now that I have leisure to do so I will start calling on my numerous memories and looking up the diaries which I have kept. Unfortunately those of some years before the First World War were lost with furniture, pictures etc in storage in London destroyed by bombs.

I was born on the 8th of September in the year 1877 at a small station in Northern Bengal, where my father was engaged on Railway Construction Works, he being then 29 years of age; he had married my mother the year before, she being the daughter of a Major William Daly of Bengal Cavalry who had fought with his regiment throughout the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and was badly wounded in the head at the Relief of Delhi, which brought about his retirement to his native County of Cork where he lived to a great old age; his wife, my grandmother, was a Miss Foley, who had died some years before him; my father’s family on the maternal side had been farmers for several hundreds of years in the County of Hereford and their baptisms, marriages and burials are to be seen in the Church of England registers in the small village of Kinnersley and in the library of Hereford City; their name was Holder which derives from Free Holder from Saxon times and my great grandfather was the last of the male line; my great grandmother’s name was Prosser which is a shortening of Aprosser, also a Hereford name from Ross in that County.


Throughout the centuries that these two families had lived in Herefordshire, there must have entered some Welsh or Celtic blood as well, as my father was a red haired man of what is generally known as a Celtic type; my great grandfather John Holder, when he died left his two daughters rather badly off, as he was more interested in horses and hounds than in farming, and when his property was sold at his death, most of the proceeds were swallowed up by the mortgages. These two daughters went to London to live with an old friend of their mother’s who being comfortably off looked after them as if they were her own daughters; the elder one June my grandmother had more of the Celt in her than Saxon and she ran off with a French officer, in exile in England with Napoleon, who afterwards became Napoleon III of France. They were married at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and a year afterwards my father was baptised there. I expect my grandmother was hurriedly “converted” to the Roman Catholic faith before the marriage. At that time in England, there was a general dislike of the French caused by the Napoleonic wars and it was probably one of the reasons that my grandmother had run off with her husband to be married in France.


My French grandfather’s name was De Fouquerelle, and his family came from Amiens or that district, and one of the streets in Amiens is called Rue de Fouquerelle, which I saw myself in 1917 when the British Army entered there. He was killed in one of the skirmishes or small fights which ushered in Napoleon III’s arrival from his exile in England. My grandmother being left a widow with a one year old baby (my father) [as a means of livelihood teaching English] was in Paris when she met a Mr John Holmes a Yorkshireman who [I understand a wool merchant in India], travelled between England and India frequently on his business. He was a widower and a kind and good man and being a staunch Church of England man, had my father as a baby baptized into the Church of England and adopted by him legally as his own son giving him his name John Holmes; I do not expect my grandmother made any objections and she probably returned to her earlier faith. My father was sent to England at an early age to be educated and probably attended some school in London, where his aunt lived, who was the younger sister of my grandmother. Her name was Martha. She had married a well to do glove manufacturer in London named John Collingwood, who when he died left her a considerable fortune, she died in 1910 aged 92 and in her will left instructions for her body to be taken to Kinnersley and buried in the churchyard there, which was done. I have no idea why the family considered Kinnersley church their parish, because their own house called Hursley House [Editor’s note: Hurstley] (still standing) was situated in the hamlet of Hursley, a mile or two distant from Kinnersley, there being also a small church there. Kinnersley church is a very ancient church dating I think from Saxon times, the Castle and Rectory both adjoin the churchyard.


When my father was about 17 having studied in England Civil Engineering besides the ordinary subjects, his stepfather died so he had to return to India to join his mother, who had not been left very well off, as her husband had left two other children, then grown up, by his first wife, who had a share of the estate, or she would certainly have returned to England to live near her younger sister Martha Collingwood, the two sisters being very attached to each other.


In a few years time she died also and my father who had been having practical experience in railway surveys and construction had by then obtained a permanent post and was stationed in Northern Bengal when he married my mother who had come from Ireland to stay with a family in Allahabad who were friends of her father and mother; she was 18 years old when I was born.

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